Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Store Wars

There are at least fifteen liquor stores within a three mile radius of the new Columbia Wegmans store. A good many of them showed up at the Alcoholic Beverage Hearing Board last night to testify against the application for a new liquor store at Wegmans. A few came from even farther away.

I wasn’t surprised by this. The Wegmans store would be the largest liquor store in HoCo. It will also occupy some of the highest ground in liquor store retail real estate, inside a Wegmans store.
Mike Smith might take issue with calling the store the “Wegmans” store but that it is literally what it is. Mike, the HoCo licensee wannabe, owns 10% of the entity that will be leasing the space within Wegmans from Wegmans. The other 90% of the store ownership is an LLC controlled by Chris O’Donnell who also happens to be the husband of Colleen Wegman, the president of Wegmans. As if to drive the point home, last night Mike couldn’t even say for sure what the eventual name of the store will be. He was fuzzy on other details too, such as how much money he’ll need to open the store.

Wouldn’t you have run the numbers by now?

I’ll bet Chris O’Donnell has.

For the period of time that I sat in it wasn’t going well for Mike. According to this story by David Greisman in Explore Howard the opposition bought in some heavy guns, "two attorneys representing Kings Contrivance Liquor and Smoke Shop in Columbia, Glenwood Wine & Spirits in Glenwood and The Perfect Pour in Elkridge” grilled him over every detail of his application.

“Opponents also questioned whether the shop itself is legal under state law, noting that the public face of the liquor store, R. Michael Smith, a 63-year-old Ellicott City man, would only own 10 percent of the liquor store.”

The opposition is not without issues either. They simply don’t want the competition. They seem to think a public license also comes with an exclusive marketing territory. I don’t find that a valid reason to restrain competition. It is anti consumer. I’m going to go ahead and post the names of all the stores that testify against Wegmans so consumers can decide for themselves where they stand on this.

According to a study conducted by Lipman Frizzel & Mitchell the Columbia Wegmans will draw from a trade area of 200,000 households within a ten mile radius. Joe Cronyn testified that the proposed store would have a "diffuse impact" on existing liquor stores within that trade area.

As for Wegmans, come on man. Just call this store what it really is or find an experienced partner with some real skin in the game to at least make it look better.
And finally, kudos and a wag of the wordbones tail to members of the hearing board. You served your fellow citizens well last night.
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